HomeOctober 2010Making a Difference

Making a Difference

Seeking to give back to the community, to make a difference, to learn something every day, and to pass on the Jewish heritage to her children, Nevona Shabtai seems to be everywhere there is a need in a Jewish organization.  Shabtai, who will receive the Samuel Gendel Community Service Award from the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Orange County, has left her imprimatur on many Orange County and Los Angeles Jewish organizations.  The gala honoring Shabtai is slated for Sunday, October 24 at 6 p.m. at the Fairmont Hotel in Newport Beach

Born in Iran, Shabtai, who is the youngest of nine children, immigrated to Israel with her parents at the age of seven.  She joined the Israeli army and served in the intelligence corps.  In 1976 she married Itzhak Shabtai, who also grew up in Israel.  They moved to the U.S. and had three children, David, Dan, and Diana.

After settling in Los Angeles, Shabtai became active in various capacities in Hadassah, becoming a life member.  She also worked with seniors on the Social Action Committee of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation and served on the board of the Iranian Jewish Women’s Organization raising funds for underprivileged students and young families.

In 1987 the Shabtai family moved to Newport Beach and joined Temple Bat Yahm.  She related that there were “a handful of synagogues to choose from at that time.”  Because her father was a rabbi, she knew that it was “important for the kids to join a congregation that would keep them involved.” She related that, “Sometimes the kids would pull us to temple.”

Shabtai jumped right in, serving on the Temple Bat Yahm Sisterhood Board of Directors.  She was honored as a Woman of the Year by that organization in 2009.

In addition to her work at Temple Bat Yahm, Shabtai has served on the board of directors of the Jewish Community Center.  Currently, she serves on the board of Women’s Philanthropy of Jewish Federation and Family Services (JFFS) and is active on its social action committee, the Mitzvah Mavens.  She co-chairs the Business and Professional Committee, a networking group for Jewish women and is active in the Persian Cultural Committee as part of JFFS.  The Persian Committee is raising money for centers in Sderot, Israel, which has been especially hard hit by rocket attacks from Gaza.  It also provides a social and intellectual outlet for Iranian Jews.

“JFFS is close to my heart, because it’s everywhere, especially in time of need,” Shabtai explained.  “You can see and feel that what you’re doing is making a difference in people’s lives.”

Shabtai and her daughter formed Atid, an intergenerational group of Hadassah in Newport Beach that has attracted many mothers and daughters, and they served as the group’s first co-presidents.  Currently, Nevona Shabtai serves as treasurer.

“Fifty years ago Hadassah was the only organization where Jewish women could be active,” Shabtai said.  “I’ve been a member of it for 32 years, and it does a lot of good in the world.  Itzhak went to Israel with Youth Aliyah, sponsored by Hadassah, and he is thankful every day.  The time was right to form a Hadassah group in Newport Beach, and I knew a lot of people who would join it.”

Last year Shabtai helped with and contributed to building the first mikvah in Orange County at Chabad of North Orange County in Yorba Linda.  The mikvah has served more than 700 women so far.

Several years ago Shabtai began to go to lectures and activities from AJC Orange County.  She became more active when approached by Miki Sholkoff, the president of the organization.

“Young people need to be encouraged to be Zionistic,” she said.  “Lobbying makes a difference, or else Israel would be isolated.”

Speaking of young people, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in the Shabtai family.  David has been active in the JCC, Dan has been active in Chabad all over the world, and Diana is involved in YLD and, of course, Hadassah.

Shabtai also has worked for the family business, which imports furniture and floor covering items, for the past 26 years.  She obviously thrives on being active.

“I love learning a lot from everyone and seeing that what I do makes a difference,” she said.  “Orange County people are very welcoming, and they accept everyone, which makes it even easier to participate.  If everyone did a little bit, we could really make a difference in the world.”

American Jewish Committee (AJC), established in 1906 by a small group of American Jews deeply concerned about pogroms aimed at Russian Jews, determined that the best way to protect Jewish populations in danger would be to work towards a world in which all peoples were accorded respect and dignity.  More than 100 years later, AJC continues its efforts to promote pluralistic and democratic societies where all minorities are protected. AJC is an international think tank and advocacy organization that attempts to identify trends and problems early – and take action. Its key areas of focus are: combating anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry;  promoting pluralism and shared democratic values; supporting Israel’s quest for peace and security; advocating for energy independence; and strengthening Jewish life.

Rabbi Marc Dworkin is the director of AJC in Orange County.  Chairs of the October 24 event honoring Nevona Shabtai are Martin and Tamar Brower, Jeff and Debbie Margolis, and Elliot and Roz Vogelfanger.

For more information about the organization or the event, please contact Char Allen at (949) 660-8525 or ocajcconsultant@ajc.org.

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